Wednesday, March 11, 2009

works for me wednesday: tea parties 101

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{After hosting my first tea party back in 2003 and about a dozen tea parties since, I consider myself qualified for this tutorial! Enjoy!}

Without further ado...

Here's Tabitha's Official Guide to the Basics of a Successful Tea Party!

First of all, what IS a tea party?
DEFINITION: My definition is that any time there's tea being served--whether it's a group of 100 or tea for one--it's a tea party! Tea parties can be grand sit-down affairs of multiple tables and dozens of women or an intimate gathering of friends around a dining room table with simple sandwiches and cookies. Two women can have tea and muffins together on a Tuesday morning and call it a tea party! You can throw a tea party to celebrate a little girl's birthday, to honor a mother-to-be, to raise money for a cause or for no other reason than to have fun. Tea parties are a wonderful way to embrace the season as well. I have hosted a Valentine's Day tea party the Saturday before Valentine's Day for six years in a row now and two or three in early fall, before the holiday rush begins. You can use any excuse to host a tea party!

THE TEA: The most important feature, of course, is the tea. Living in Arizona, I have hosted tea parties in warm weather and given the ladies the choice of hot or cold teas. The host would have the choice of allowing guests to choose a bag of tea (like Stash, pictured)or to brew multiple pots of tea to choose from. One year, I asked my guests to bring a box of their favorite tea.
My mother gave me an electric tea kettle for Christmas a few years back that heats enough water--quickly--for exactly twelve cups of tea, which is how many women I average at my tea parties. What a lifesaver! Thankfully, loose tea is making a comeback and many purists will accept nothing else. Brewing and setting out a variety of loose teas in pots, then attaching a small sign indicating the flavor, is a good strategy. It's fun to allow your guests to sample multiple teas. Make sure to have at least one type of decaffeinated tea available as well. If most of your teas are exotic, have a plain variety as well, for the less adventurous.

THE FOOD: The food can be simple or elaborate depending on the occasion. For sit-down affairs--whether a brunch or luncheon--food requiring a fork (like chicken salad on a bed of lettuce) makes for a tasty meal. Traditionally, however, tea time is meant to be more of a mid-afternoon snack and would not require a fork. Balancing a plate and a cup of tea is challenging enough without adding a fork to the equation! Among the most popular tea fare are scones and jam or lemon curd; finger sandwiches, often cut into a circle or heart shape, and filled with egg or ham salad or cucumber (among others); deviled eggs; petit fors; fruit; and virtually any kind of candy or cookies. Chocolate covered strawberries are my personal favorite!
Here's a typical spread for three of my past tea parties:

WHOM TO INVITE: Deciding whom to invite depends on the occasion and location, of course. Ladies of all ages enjoy tea parties and I often mention that they're welcome to bring along a friend or family member since some women don't like coming alone. Regarding children, my invitations always say "Well-behaved little girls are also welcome," meaning that I let the mother decide whether her daughter A. would enjoy the event and B. is "mature" enough to handle it, while setting the expectation that ladylike behavior is encouraged.
When hosting a tea party in your home, you can choose to focus on one group of people from your life--say, ladies from your church or social club--or to invite everyone you know. In general, one in four people you invite will attend.

INVITATIONS: Invitations are as unique as the tea parties themselves. I rely on a mass e-mail to spread the word, then hand out simple invitations printed on pretty computer paper and sealed with a sticker. You can make them yourself, have them printed professionally (if you have the budget) or use generic pre-printed invitations from your favorite store. Allow the invitation to reflect the theme or "feel" of your tea, as it will set the tone for the event. A set of blank teapot note cards (like the ones pictured from with your event information written inside make a lovely invitation!
You can even tuck a tea bag inside for an extra touch. Be sure to mention if they need to bring anything or if a particular attire is required. I typically say, "Dress up if you wish...hats are encouraged," or something to that effect. It's a nice chance for ladies to dress up and wear that special hat they've only worn once or twice--but you don't want to put pressure on the less girly ladies among us!

SETTING UP: When hosting a potluck tea party, preparation is minimized. The beauty is, you won't have everyone sitting around a table so you're not limited to how many people your dining room table seats--you can invite as many ladies as you have chairs--or as many as your home can hold! Everyone can fill their plates then choose where they want to sit, so you'll be able to make use of your couch and side chairs, plus your dining room table chairs and any extra chairs you have. You can use your dining room table for the food, which is where you can be creative with the table cloth, centerpiece, candles, etc. Besides beautifying your table ahead of time, don't forget plates and napkins. With finger foods, you don't need large plates so salad plates are fine. Cloth napkins are a nice touch but paper napkins are certainly easier.
Here's an example from my Valentine's Day tea party in 2007.
A "tea station" is also recommended, perhaps on a sideboard or buffet table, where you would have cups and saucers available, along with the pre-prepared and labeled tea pots or tea bags and hot water. Here's my version from October '07: Then all you need are spoons and the fixins', including lemon slices, honey, sugar (I prefer cubes) and cream. You could also provide fun extras like cinnamon or even chocolate!
Make sure to have extra serving pieces and serving utensils available for anyone who needs them. For example, if someone brings store-bought cookies in a plastic container, you could place them on a decorative plate instead. Place spoons and knives in the appropriate places, too, like alongside the lemon curd or butter.
Before guests arrive, light candles, put on your music and start the hot water boiling.
Make sure your front porch is spruced up and as welcoming as possible. Consider hanging a festive wreath or even attaching balloons to a potted plant--something that tells guests they're in the right place. Here's what I did for an October tea party:
PARTY AGENDA: Expect guests to arrive from ten minutes prior to the start time to up to thirty minutes after. Have your cell phone handy in case someone gets lost! As guests arrive, have them set their contribution on the table. Once most of your guests are there, invite them to fill their plates and fix their tea, choose a seat and begin eating. Once they sample what's on their plates and in their cups, expect them to go back for more of what they liked or sample more teas. If your guests are shy, you may want to offer to refill their cup or pass around a few platters of food. Periodically check your supply of things like napkins, sugar or cream and refill as necessary.
Unless you have any games or activities planned, simply allow your guests to enjoy each others company! Most of my tea parties have lasted for about two hours from the time the first guest arrives until the last guest goes home. If you feel the need to fill up some of the time, consider educating your guests on the history of tea, sharing interesting tea tidbits or having guests take turns reading pre-printed quotes about tea.

The most important thing is for you to enjoy the tea party yourself! If you're having fun, you know your guests are having fun, too!

To check out my latest tea party, visit this blog post:

Mother-Daughter Fairy Garden Tea Party


Hadley said...

looks like fun! i'm going to bookmark this. I want to have a garden tea this spring!

Jenny Beth @ JenuineJen said...

This looks like a lot of fun. I'd love to host a Tea Party like this for some of my friends.

Heather said...

Well, hello swap partner! I LOVE this post. We are down to two birthday ideas for my Sassy's third birthday. One is an Alice in Wonderland tea party. Great ideas!